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Mentor Compares Three Top Guns

By Ron Green Jr. – Global Golf Post

Through a lifetime of playing and teaching golf, Butch Harmon knows the special ones when he sees them.

Harmon coached Greg Norman when he was the best player in the world.

Photo: Bridgestone Golf
Photo: Bridgestone Golf

He then coached Tiger Woods when he skyrocketed to No. 1 in the world, winning eight majors during their time together that ended in 2003.

And now Harmon has helped transform Dustin Johnson into the game’s newest No. 1 player, an ascendance that has coincided with Johnson’s more settled personal life.

Two years ago, on Sunday of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, Harmon said Johnson would become the top-ranked player in the world. It didn’t end well for Johnson at Chambers Bay, where he three-putted himself out of a playoff on the 72nd hole, but Harmon was prophetic.

“When I said that (at Chambers Bay), I meant it. He has all the ingredients,” Harmon said by phone last week.

Butch Harmon (Photo Twitter)
Butch Harmon (Photo Twitter)

Those ingredients finally have come together. Against a field that included eight of the top 10 players in the world at Riviera Country Club, Johnson led by as many as nine strokes during the final round in his Genesis Open victory two Sundays ago.

For years, even as Johnson was steadily stacking up tournament victories, there was a sense he could be better. He didn’t seem fully committed. Quirky things happened. The question wasn’t how Johnson had managed to win every year he’d been on Tour but why he hadn’t won more.

“He is not complacent any more,” Harmon said. “He used to be complacent.

“Having his son was a huge thing for him. He enjoys that little boy. It gave him a sense of maturity that he didn’t have. He has more responsibility now.”

Having worked with the best at their best, Harmon sees in Johnson similarities to Norman and Woods.

It starts with natural talent. Norman remains one of the best drivers ever, harnessing power and accuracy like few have. Woods had more power and a short game like we’d never seen. Johnson has natural athleticism and uncommon power even by modern standards.

“The other thing these great champions have is the ability mentally, Woods and Norman particularly, that the last shot never happened,” Harmon said. “They say, ‘I have no control over that.’ Dustin is the epitome of that.

“When you think of all the things that have happened to him at major championships that might have ruined other players mentally. It was just water off a duck’s back to him. He just said I can’t go back and play it again so I’m not going to dwell on it.

“He doesn’t even talk about the three-putt from 12 feet at Chambers Bay. He doesn’t mention it. Most people couldn’t stop talking about it.”

Dustin Johnson (Photo Twitter)
Dustin Johnson (Photo Twitter)

Technically, Harmon said Johnson has focused on overall improvement with an emphasis on wedge play. Johnson has come to rely on a gentle cut with his driver, which gives him more accuracy without sacrificing much distance. Jordan Spieth points to the soft fade as a redefining element in Johnson’s game.

Johnson now is capable of making adjustments on his own, which he did in the early rounds at Riviera when something felt a little off.

“He looks at what he’s not good at and works to make it better. Tiger had that and Greg had that,” Harmon said.

Woods had trouble spinning wedges and Norman struggled with hitting the ball too high. They worked through those challenges with Harmon.

What Johnson didn’t have was touch with his wedges. Two years ago, Harmon told Johnson that almost every par-4 he plays will leave him with an approach shot inside 150 yards. Consistent wedge play was critical.

“He takes a Trackman to tournaments when he warms up just for his wedge play,” Harmon said. “He’ll hit a shot now and say, ‘That went 81 yards.’ You look at the numbers and it will be 81 or 82 or 83. That’s how good his feel has gotten.”

Last season, Johnson ranked fourth on Tour in proximity to the hole from 50 to 125 yards. He ranked first in putting average based on greens hit in regulation.

Getting to No. 1 goes beyond technique however. Woods burned with a rare fire and he was capable of closing off the outside world. Norman was consumed with being the biggest thing in the game.

Johnson’s face rarely reveals much emotion. He’s almost stoic on  the course, leading to suggestions that his personal pilot light stays on low. Not true, Harmon says.

“He has that ‘I want to bury you’ instinct,” Harmon said.

“Back in the wild west days, he’s like the guy who was the fastest gun. A kid comes to town to challenge him. The kid is standing there at the end of the street, his hand is twitching and the fastest gun, Dustin Johnson, just walks out and sees the kid. When the kid pulls his gun, Dustin just pulls his and shoots him then walks back inside.”

There’s a new sheriff in town.

Republished with permission by Global Golf Post.